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Sacred FireIt is the relatively obscure writer Harriet E. Wilson who has earned the tide of Mother of Black Women's Fiction. Our Nig, the first novel by an African American woman, transports the reader of the African experience in America to the North— the Promised Land—freedom. The time: circa 1859; the place: Boston, or its environs. Through Alfrado, the novel's female pro-tagonist, Wilson adds to the American literary palette the first of many black heroines who evince moral rectitude and strength of character. But Alfrado's life was no crystal stair. As Wilson describes it, the "freedom" afforded blacks in the North was a chimera; the "shadows of slavery"—racist abuse, servitude, limited opportunity—fell hard on New England's black citizens and particularly hard on black women.
After the death of her father, a black man, Frado is abandoned by her white mother and her mother's new black lover. Frado becomes a servant for a white family, the Bellmonts. While Mr. Bellmont and his sons are kind-hearted men, Frado is chronically mistreated and tormented by Mrs. Bellmont, a diabolic woman intent on destroying Frado's spirit through scoldings and physical violence. Frado withstands the worst of Mrs. Belmont and eventually rebels, refusing to be beaten, much to the shock of her mistress. She leaves the Bellmont household and eventually marries Samuel, a con man who claims to be a former slave and makes his living as an abolitionist orator. When Frado becomes preg-nant, Samuel takes off, leaving her alone and in desperate poverty.